Monday, February 7, 2011
The Hinds County Board of Supervisors voted today to extend the contract of a county Elections Commission worker whose employment has stirred controversy. Supervisors voted 3-0 to extend voting-machine technician Pat Wilson's contract through the November general election, despite opposition from Election Commissioner Bobbie Graves.
Graves first complained to the board about Wilson at a November 2010 meeting, when she alleged that Wilson had been insubordinate to her, refusing to perform work with her present. Graves also alleged that Commission Chairwoman Lelia Rhodes and Republican Commissioners Marilyn Avery and Connie Cochran intentionally withheld training about the county's voting machines, a complaint Commissioner Jermal Clark has also made.
Cochran, Avery and Rhodes vigorously disputed Graves' allegations at two successive board meetings, and the board dispatched its attorney, Crystal Martin, and County Administrator Carmen Davis to investigate the controversy.
At today's meeting, Martin told supervisors that, based on her investigation, she believed that the incident was "an unfortunate misunderstanding." The board has no authority to find an Election Commission employee insubordinate, though it does have authority over contract payments, Martin said.
Martin confirmed another of Graves' allegations, however. The Election Commission has no record of ever approving Wilson's current contract, which dates back to December 2009, Martin said. Instead of having every commissioner's signature, the contract has only one, from Rhodes.
"There's no evidence that a vote was taken by the commission for this contract to be entered, nor are there any minutes documented where the commission appeared before the board to gain authorization to enter this contract," Martin said.
The commission also has no minutes showing approval of Wilson's previous contract, which dated back to 2002, nor do the Board of Supervisors' minutes show any board approval of the contract.
"It's believed that minutes from this time period may have been destroyed during a storm, when Commissioner Avery's home was damaged," Martin said. "However, she was able to produce the contract from 2002."
Nevertheless, Martin recommended that the board extend Wilson's contract up to Dec. 31, 2011, to allow him to prepare county voting machines for the November statewide election. Since Graves' raised her complaints, the commission has met to solicit input from all members on Wilson's contract and added training to his list of job responsibilities, Martin said.
"While this board has no governance over how the commission operates, I would like to remind everyone that the commission should operate in a manner that has the perception of being fair and providing equal access for all commissioners," Martin said.
The board voted unanimously on the contract extension. Supervisor Peggy Calhoun, though present for the meeting, was outside the boardroom during the vote.
Martin suggested that the board consider purchasing new voting machines after the election. New technology would help alleviate some of the disputes over training by giving all commissioners a fresh start, she said.
Graves appeared dissatisfied with Martins' recommendation that the board extend Wilson's contract, at one point muttering, "It's a farce."
Board President George Smith also suggested that the board ratify Wilson's 2002 contract that it never voted on. "We, the board, have paid that money," Smith said. "To protect us, I would suggest that we ratify those past contracts."
"The commissioners didn't vote on it, so how would you go back?" Graves asked. "How can you ratify something that's that old?"
Martin said that she needed additional time to get advice on the issue from the attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor's offices.
Absolutely amazing. Why are the minutes of Board meetings housed at someone's personal residence? This is the Hinds County Election Commission. The taxpayers pay for them to have office space in which to house records. This is unacceptable and should be thoroughly investigated. While I'm sure there are not actually any improprieties, it is this type of problem that gives the appearance there may be. If we are ever to turn the perception of our state around, we must do a better job than this.
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